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Friday, 31 July 2015

Harriet Harman tells David Cameron to halt his back-door plans to cut tax credits

The Labour Leader, Harriet Harman, has written to Prime Minister, David Cameron, calling on the government to bring forward primary legislation on the substantial planned changes in tax credits. At the moment tax credit changes costing working families £1,000 a year could be imposed with the scantest possible parliamentary scrutiny, through a Statutory Instrument which will not be debated by the whole House of Commons. Labour is calling for changes to tax credits to be first examined by the Treasury Select Committee and thereafter included in primary legislation.

The full text of the letter is below:
Dear Prime Minister,
You have proposed substantial measures to cut tax credit work allowances which the IFS say will cost 3 million families an average of £1,000 a year each – a total cut of £3.4 billion.
The cuts in tax credits of £3.4 billion were not in your manifesto. During the election campaign you gave no indication that your government had plans to do this. Indeed on 30 April 2015, in response to a question on whether you would cut Child Tax Credit, you said: “No I don’t want to do that”.
This is a controversial measure. You assert that working people will be compensated for the cuts to tax credits by the increases in the minimum wage. This is contested by the IFS who say that it is “arithmetically impossible”.
It appears that you are proposing to implement your cuts to tax credits with the scantest possible parliamentary scrutiny, through a Statutory Instrument which will not be debated by the whole House of Commons. It will only be considered by a committee of no more than 15 MPs and is likely to be concluded in no more than 45 minutes. It will not be possible to amend it in the House of Lords.
Parliament needs to be able to scrutinise this measure which was not in your manifesto, and is substantial and highly controversial, and which we oppose. These cuts to tax credits hit working families in every constituency, and must not be sneaked through the back door without the chance for MPs to subject them to proper scrutiny.
I am writing to ask you to undertake that this is not implemented by way of a Statutory Instrument. I propose that it is first examined by the Work and Pensions and Treasury Select Committees, who can take evidence on the extent to which the cuts to tax credits will hit working families and the inaccuracy of your claim that those who lose out will be compensated by a higher minimum wage.
Thereafter, if you persist in taking these measures forward, I propose that you do so in primary legislation which can be considered at a Second Reading on the floor of the House of Commons, then in a full Committee Stage, then again by the whole House of Commons at a Report Stage and Third Reading, and then by the House of Lords.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours sincerely,


Harriet Harman

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Cameron's plan to pack the Lords will cost millions

The Electoral Reform Society today release new figures which show how out of control the House of Lords has become in terms of its size and cost – less than a day after the Prime Minister appeared to rule out reform of the upper chamber. The House of Lords is growing in size with each new government - and it shows no sign of slowing down despite scandal after scandal, the Society shows in the new research.

Their research, which they released today shows:
  • The Prime Minister’s plans to appoint 50 more Peers over the summer would cost at least £1.3m, while an additional 100 peers - a prospect very much on the table - would cost at least £2.6m in expenses and allowances.
  • To ‘rebalance’ the upper chamber strictly in line with the 2015 General Election results - without kicking out Peers en masse or moving to a fully elected chamber - would require an additional 704 Peers, bringing the number of unelected Peers to 1490. Unelected lawmakers would outnumber our elected MPs by more than two to one. A 'rebalanced' Lords on the basis of the May 7th result could cost at least £18m.
  • According to the House of Lords Resource Accounts analysed by the ERS, the net operating costs of the House of Lords in 2013-4 was £93.1m, approximately equivalent to £118k per peer.
  • During the period spanning February 2014 to January 2015 £21,424,729 was spent on Lords allowances and expenses, with the average peer receiving £25,826. 

These figures are likely to be much higher when additional operating costs are added, with the Lords already stretched to breaking point. The research comes ahead of a major report by the Society due to be released in August.

Darren Hughes, Deputy Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: "Our unelected House of Lords is growing out of control, and shows no sign of slowing down. Indeed, this government is set to appoint dozens more Peers over the summer - despite repeated scandals - going back many years - and calls from the public to have a leaner and more democratic chamber. These latest figures only serve to reinforce the need for a radical rethink about our second chamber, which is getting bigger and more expensive by the day."

"That unaccountable Peers could outnumber elected MPs by two to one if calls for even more appointments are listened to is a shocking state of affairs, and one which must be challenged. Each Lord costs the tax-payer nearly £120k a year. It can't be right that when politicians are talking about reducing the cost of politics, they're set to stuff the upper chamber with yet more party appointees. Too many peers have worked in politics before or are party donors. And it's no surprise that there are always more lining up waiting to join the club.  It can't be allowed to spiral further out of control."

"We urgently need to sort out the House of Lords and move to a fully-elected chamber where the people who make our laws are elected by the public - and can be kicked out by the public. The latest affair only goes to show that our democracy shouldn't be left to the discretion of unelected Peers but should be in the hands of voters." 

Commenting on the Prime Minister’s response to questions over the need for reform yesterday, Darren Hughes added: "The Prime Minister’s comments, writing off reform of the Lords and suggesting that dozens more appointments could be on the way, simply beggar belief. The House of Lords is already the second biggest chamber in the world – after China’s upper house – and the only completely unelected upper House in Europe. For the PM to consider adding even more party cronies after yet another round of controversy is frankly shocking."

"It is staggering that the Prime Minister regrets he didn’t reform the Lords in the last Parliament yet says he won’t do it now. These are the kind of cosy and convenient arguments which protect the Westminster club. The public are tired of inaction on this issue, and the PM should lead on this, not cop out. If Mr Cameron gives up on this, we’ll have years more of cronies, donors and party hacks stuffing our oversized, expensive and unelected House."

"The government has a Parliamentary majority – if Mr Cameron wants reform of the Lords, he can do it. Now is the time to stop skirting around the issue and to use the majority in the House in favour of reform to secure a democratically-elected upper chamber. Almost every opposition MP backs an elected upper chamber – not to mention the vast majority of the public who are sick of party hacks and donors being sent to claim their £300 a day. "

"It’s clear that our unaccountable upper chamber needs cleaning up. Instead of regretting a lack of reform in the last Parliament, the Prime Minister should seize the opportunity and do it now."

Greens welcome 'landmark' legal aid ruling

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett has welcomed yesterday’s "landmark" decision by the Court of Appeal to allow The Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prisoners’ Advice Service (PAS) to challenge legal aid cuts for prisoners after ruling there was a risk that the system could be unfair and unlawful.

A challenge by the Howard League and PAS was blocked by the High Court in March 2014 – but that decision was today overturned by Court of Appeal judges Lord Justice Leveson, Lord Justice Tomlinson and Lady Justice Sharp. The Court of Appeal’s decision means that the case can now proceed to a full trial.

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said: "This is a landmark decision in the fight against the government’s cuts to Legal Aid, which are an affront to people’s right to access justice. This right should be available to everyone in society, without discrimination. I am pleased the Court of Appeal has acknowledged the Legal Aid cuts deserve full judicial consideration. A society's humanity can be judged by its treatment of the most vulnerable and the most difficult cases. I hope this decision paves the way for everyone to be able to achieve full access to justice."

Charley Pattison, Green Party Justice Spokesperson, said: "This decision is very encouraging. In its decision, the Court of Appeal has recognised the inherent unfairness of the legal aid cuts, particularly for the most vulnerable in society, such as those with mental health problems and learning difficulties. The fact that this case can proceed to full trial fills me with cautious optimism.”

The charities argued in court that there were seven key areas of work cut from the ambit of legal aid that carry an unacceptable risk of unfairness. These included:
  • cases where prisoners appear before the Parole Board about their suitability for a move to open prison (but not release); 
  • cases about pregnant prisoners being allocated to mother and baby units;
  • segregation; 
  • access to offending behaviour work; 
  • having a suitable home to go to on release from prison.

Unlike other cuts to legal aid, where a safety net was introduced to allow people to apply for legal aid in exceptional circumstances, the cuts for prisoners were absolute: there is no lifeline for even the most vulnerable or incapacitated prisoner to apply for legal aid for prison law matters.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Farron calls for reform of the Lords 'once and for all'

Politicians from across the political spectrum should seize the opportunity to overhaul the House of Lords once and for all, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has said. It comes amid the fallout of Lord Sewel’s resignation from the House of Lords, which has sparked calls for a shake-up of the second chamber. Tim Farron has written to party leaders in the Commons and Lords - as well as crossbench peers - urging them to back the case for reform.

Commenting Mr Farron said: "Lord Sewel’s resignation is welcome, albeit 24 hours too late. But this is not just about one bad apple, it’s about a system which is rotten to the core and allows unelected, unaccountable people to think they are above the law. It is yet another sorry reflection of an undemocratic system, and more than ever highlights the Liberal Democrat case for reform. Even the best politicians must be accountable to the public, and the current system of lifetime appointments means that doesn’t happen."

Lib Dem peer Jeremy Purvis last month set out plans for a new UK constitutional convention, as part of a bill which included plans to overhaul the House of Lords. And with Mr Farron writing to leaders of all parties in both chambers, including all four of the Labour leadership candidates, by doing so calling for them to back the convention and take seriously the case for reform.

Tim Farron said: "It is hugely disappointing, but not that surprising, that David Cameron and the Tories are still stubbornly refusing to budge on a shake-up in the House of Lords. Calls for a moratorium, or a retirement age just paper over the cracks. Nothing will be achieved until Parliamentarians vote in favour of abolition and reform, something Lib Dems are committed to doing. So, it is left to the Liberal Democrats to lead the overwhelming case to ensure our second chamber is elected and properly accountable to the British people."

In 2012 the Coalition government tried to legislate for an elected second chamber, replacing the House of Lords. The Deputy Prime Minister, at the time, Nick Clegg carried the chamber comfortably winning the second reading vote but the Labour party refused to back the programme motion. David Cameron and the leader of the Tory rebels, Jesse Norman, clashed in the Division Lobby over the programme motion. Labour leader Ed Miliband later quipping that it was 'fisticuffs in the lobby'.

A programme motion puts an arbitrary time table in place for when a stage of a bill finishes. The stage in question was for the Committee Stage. This is the stage where amendments can be tabled, debated and voted upon. During the second reading debate, now London Mayoral hopeful, Sadiq Khan who was leading for Labour refused on numerous occasions, including requests from his own side, to say how long he thought the Committee Stage should be. 

Nick Clegg had tabled ten days for Committee Stage, but with Labour siding with the Tory rebels the Coalition just didn't have the numbers to get it through. No programme motion would have held up the rest of the Coalitions legislation indefinitely so the motion was withdrawn and Labour and the Tory rebels killed Lords reform and ensured the status quo could continue.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Farron slams Tories over huge blow to green industry

In what the Liberal Democrats are calling a huge blow to Britain's Green industry, the Tories have announced they will end all Government funding to the Green Deal - a programme set up by the Liberal Democrats in Coalition that helps people make their homes more energy efficient.

Lib Dem Leader Tim Farron has condemned the new policy, saying: "Today’s news is yet another blow for green industry and British jobs. The Conservatives claim they want to tackle climate change, but this is further evidence they don’t care about the environment. For five years we fought sceptical Tories to ensure we were the greenest Government ever by investing billions in renewables and setting out ambitious climate change targets."

Mr Farron continued by saying: "By quietly dumping the Green Deal, David Cameron has yet again shown how little he cares about the future of the planet. "The Prime Minister has not so much hugged a husky as led it behind the coal shed, shot it in the head and told his Energy Secretary it has gone to live on a farm in the country."

The scrapping of the Green Deal comes as Friends of the Earth have criticised David Cameron for "dismantling" 10 year's worth of low carbon policies.

In Coalition, Liberal Democrats delivered the greenest Government ever - investing billions of pounds in renewables and eco-friendly jobs. Just a few months after the Lib Dems left office, the Tories have:
  • Scrapped subsidies for onshore wind and commercial solar - the two cheapest forms of clean energy
  • Slashed the energy efficiency budget
  • Ended the tax break for clean cars
  • Abolished rules on zero carbon housing
  • Lowered taxes on polluting firms
  • Introduced a tax on clean energy

Labour leadership contest needs to not only be serious but respectful

Comment piece by Labour PPC for Rayleigh and Wickford, David Hough:

On Tuesday the House of Commons went into its summer recess, and this is usually the time that the 'silly season' begins, that time of year when the newspapers are filled with frivolous stories, of little real interest or importance. This year, though, is different as the season seems to have started earlier, with the entertainment being provided by the Labour Party's leadership contest.

The party's contest was triggered by Ed Miliband's resignation following the general election defeat. Unfortunately, what should have been a serious debate about the future of the party, and by extension the country, has often been sidelined by stupid comments, in support or against another candidate.

I am a supporter of Yvette Cooper's campaign, but it was one of her supporters, Helen Goodman, who got the whole thing started, when she said that the primary reason that she supported Yvette was because she was a mother. This then got turned into a criticism of Liz Kendall who, as yet, is not. If deliberate, this was an unkind allusion, as there could be many reasons why Ms Kendall is not a mother, none of which are anyone's business but her own.

Then followed the ridiculous, 'Liz Kendall for Conservative Party leader' meme, which may well have been intended as a joke, but too many Labour supporters have been accusing her of this very thing. Indeed, on Iain Dale's LBC debate, a caller asked this very question, but all the other candidates refused to accept this. Anyone who is a supporter of employee representation on boards and the living wage would sit oddly with the Conservative Party.

A lot of Andy Burnham's problems have been brought upon himself, with his constant shifting of position. The most recent examples being on Welfare Bill debacle, when he said that, 'we can not simply abstain on this bill,' the problem being he had just done so. Now I know exactly what Mr Burnham meant, that we cannot just leave it as it is going forward, but he needs to think more carefully about how he says these things.

Mr Burnham's reputation for 'flip-flopping,' was then compounded by his 'no' then 'yes' answers on whether he would have Jeremy Corbyn in his cabinet, then few hours later it was, apparently, a joke. In the LBC debate he unequivocally said he would serve in a Corbyn cabinet, as a loyal Labour Party member, when just last week he was saying he was thinking of nothing other than the top job.

Finally we come to Jeremy Corbyn himself, whose place on the ballot was because of MPs who supported other candidates, 'lending' him their nominations. Now there is a chance that Mr Corbyn may win this election and they're unhappy and regretting their decision.

Well, I have no sympathy whatsoever for them, these people that John McTernan called 'morons' made their choice and should think about why it is that Mr Corbyn's chances are much better than anybody originally thought. I have great admiration for Dawn Butler and Emily Thornberry, both of whom have not regretted their decisions, Dawn especially for not losing her temper with Kay Burley

It's more than abstaining on the Welfare and Finance Bills, there appears to be something going on at the top of the party which isn't convincing people, and indeed, in some circles is making us a laughing stock, when PeteWishart from the SNP mischievously asks if the seating arrangements can be changed so they become the official opposition.

Now we have the stop Jeremy Corbyn campaigns going on, and some are panicking to such an extent they're trying to get Liz Kendall to withdraw so her supporters can switch their votes elsewhere. This is yet another ridiculous move as the party is in danger of turning on itself, and the new leader, whoever it is will have a real job on trying to bring it back together.

Liz Kendall may or may not be trailing, but she has attracted a lot of support from members and supporters. It should be the the members and supporters who decide Ms Kendall's fate, not a small cabal of MPs. Some because they see her as a 'Blairite' standard bearer, and others because they think a complete break from thepre-2010 era is what's needed.

Even Tony Blair has felt the need to get involved saying that those who support Jeremy Corbyn need a heart transplant, which is not conducive to good relations within the party. Of course, it doesn't help when candidates start saying the election of another would be a disaster for the party, which leads to yet more antagonism.

I think it's time for the party to get a grip, and instead of seeking to undermine candidates, promote the one you agree with. The party should be having a debate on its future, but instead it is in danger of being seen as a summer sideshow, and not a party having a serious discussion. It is this sort of behaviour that puts people off politics, and we should make sure that the contest is not only serious, but respectful.

Friday, 17 July 2015

CND condemns UK air strikes in Syria

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) has condemned UK air strikes in Syria. These strikes have been carried out despite the House of Commons vote in August 2013 against extending air strikes to Syria by a majority of 13.

While David Cameron and Michael Fallon have both expressed support for extending the scope of the current mission, no parliamentary mandate has been sought. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon recently confirmed that the Government “will need to return to Parliament for approval if we propose to undertake air strikes against ISIL in Syria”.

John Baron, one of the few Tory MPs to vote against both the 2003 Iraq war and action in Syria, told theToday programme "let’s be absolutely clear about this. We voted in 2013, when parliament had been recalled from recess, that there should be no British military intervention in Syria. We were told that No 10 had got the message and that any future intervention would be subject to a vote. What this does show is at the very minimum an insensitivity to parliament’s will."

CND General Secretary Kate Hudson said: "The Ministry of Defence claims that British troops who are embedded with foreign forces operate as if they were troops of those countries, but this is just anti-democratic doublespeak. These are British soldiers taking part in an operation which MPs voted against."

"It shows a shocking disregard for the will of Parliament that consent was not sought before these raids took place. Ministers need to realise that dropping bombs from 30,000 feet will do nothing to solve the problems in Syria and Iraq" Ms Hudson added.